Saturday, January 7, 2017

Top 10 Posts of 2016

Here are the ten posts that received the most attention in 2016. Three had to do with things Anglican/Episcopal. The other seven are each from the series on mercy and delight that was my main focus on the blog for the second half of the year. That whole series seems more pertinent than ever as we move into 2017.

      Though it did not quite make the top 10, I am including this follow-up post on loving your enemies.


And just for good measure, here is #11:

Monday, January 2, 2017

Delight – Don't Forget About Delight, a Reading List

I've been posting regular thoughts and quotes on delight which, along with mercy, I think is at the heart of the Christian and message of God's grace and love and how we should live in light of that grace and love. I expect to occasionally post more on the topic, but I am going to take a break so I can focus on some other things.Below are the lyrics of a song by Bruce Cockburn. If you are interested in reading more on delight, there is a reading list after the song.

Don’t Forget About Delight

Amid the rumours and the expectations
And all the stories dreamt and lived
Amid the clangour and the dislocation
And things to fear and to forgive

Don't forget
About delight
Ya know what I'm saying to you
Don't forget
About delight
Ya know

Amid the post-ironic postulating
And the poets' pilfered rhymes
Meaning feels like it's evaporating
Out of sight and out of mind

Don't forget
About delight
Ya know what I'm saying to you
Don't forget
About delight
Ya know

Though you find yourself alone and stranded
With no friend to take your side
On the endless road afoot and empty-handed
Where the wild-eyed Cossacks ride
Don't forget
About delight
Ya know what I'm saying to you
Don't forget
About delight
Ya know

Spring birds peck among the pressed-down grasses
Clouds like zeppelins cross the sky
Anger drips and pools and then it passes
And I say a prayer that I

Don't forget
About delight
Ya know what I'm saying to you
Don't forget
About delight
Ya know
 – Bruce Cockburn

Reading list on Delight and Related Concepts:

A great short introduction to the theme:
Stewards of God’s Delight – Mark Clavier

A serious theological engagement with the topic:
The Beauty of the Infinite – David Bentley Hart

Another serious theological engagement:

A wonderful book on Christian spirituality:

What the world as we know it reveals about God:
A Joyful Theology – Sarah Maitland

A classic be one of the great medieval English theologians:
Showings – Julian of Norwich

A 17th century collection of meditations on delighting in God and creation:
Centuries of Meditations – Thomas Traherne

The poetry of Mary Oliver often expresses an attentive delight in creation

C. S. Lewis’ spiritual autobiography focuses on an understanding of longing and joy:
Surprised by Joy – C. S. Lewis

This essay by Lewis makes important points about engaging one another with delight:
The Weight of Glory – C. S. Lewis

Charles Williams was a theologian of God’s delight
Charles Williams, Selected Writings contains these essays:
The Way of Affirmation
Natural Goodness
The Way of Exchange
The Index of the Body

These two longer works are also good:
The Figure of Beatrice – Charles Williams

Romantic Theology – Charles Williams

Finally, this by a 19th century Russian Philosopher/theologian
The Meaning of Love – Vladimir Solovyov

More Mercy and Delight:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Mercy – A Booklist

I've been posting regular thoughts and quotes on mercy which I think is at the heart of the life and message Jesus Christ and what it means to be a Christian, a Jesus-follower. I expect to occasionally post more on the topic, but I am going to take a break so I can focus on some other things. In case you are interested in reading more on mercy, here is a booklist:

Dives in Miseriacordia (Rich in Mercy) 
– Pope John Paul II

– Walter Kasper

– Pope Francis

– Brennan Manning

– Brennan Manning

– Thomas Merton

– Paul Wadell

– Frederica Mathewes-Green
– Collected writings of early Christians

– Isaac the Syrian

– Isaac the Syrian

– Hilarion Alfeyev

The Gospels

Finally, there is this from Sister Faustina, a Roman Catholic saint of the 20th century:

Help me, O Lord, that my eyes may be merciful, so that I may never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in my neighbors’ souls and come to their rescue.

Help me, O Lord, that my ears may be merciful, so that I may give heed to my neighbors’ needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings.

Help me, O Lord, that my tongue may be merciful, so that I should never speak negatively of my neighbor, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all.

Help me, O Lord, that my hands may be merciful, and filled with good deeds, so that I might do only good to my neighbors and take upon myself the more difficult and toilsome tasks.

Help me, O Lord, that my feet may be merciful, so that may hurry to assist my neighbor, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness. My true rest is in the service of my neighbor.

Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbor. I will refuse my heart to no one. I will be sincere even with those who I know will abuse my kindness. And I will lock myself up in the merciful Heart of Jesus. May your mercy, O Lord, rest upon me.

You Yourself command me to exercise the three degrees of mercy. The first: the act of mercy, of whatever kind. The second: the word of mercy – if I cannot carry ourt a work of mercy, I will assist by my words. The third: prayer – if I cannot show mercy by my deeds or words, I can always do so by prayer.My prayer reaches out even there where I cannot reach out physically.

O my Jesus, transform me into Yourself, for You can do all things.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mercy – Vulnerable in Love

“To read the biblical narratives is to encounter a God who is, first of all, love (1 John 4:8). Love involves a willingness to put oneself at risk, and God is in fact vulnerable in love, vulnerable even to great suffering. God’s self-revelation is Jesus Christ, and, as readers encounter him in the biblical stories, he wanders with nowhere to place his head, washes the feet of his disciples like a servant, and suffers and dies on a cross–condemned by the authorities of his time, undergoing great pain, “despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity” (Isaiah 53:3). Just this Jesus is the human face of God, not merely a messenger or a prophet but God’s own self come as self-revelation to humankind. If God becomes human in just this way, moreover, then that tells us something of how we might seek our own fullest humanity–not in quests of power and wealth and fame but in service, solidarity with the despised and rejected, and willingness to be vulnerable in love.“
– Wiliam Placher, Narratives of a Vulnerable God

All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’
(Matthew 1:22-23

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:5-8)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Delight – God's Yes

I heard a radio interview once in which John Lennon, the former Beatle, recalled how he met Yoko Ono. He had been invited by friend to a conceptual art show. He found one piece of the exhibit particularly intriguing. It was a step ladder that led to a magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling. Lennon climbed the ladder. He looked through the magnifying glass at a small note taped to the ceiling. The note contained one tiny word – yes. Moved by this small declaration of hope, Lennon found the artist – Yoko Ono – and the rest, as they say, is history.

This week, we shift our attention from the anticipation of Advent season to the celebration of the actual advent of Jesus who in the Gospel of Matthew is called Immanuel, God with us. Like that hopeful word that so moved John Lennon, the word God spoke in speaking the Word (John 1:1-18) into the quiet of Mary’s womb, into the insignificant manger in little Bethlehem, and hence into the world, was God’s “Yes” to humanity. The Incarnation affirms the fundamental goodness of being human with all our vulnerability and awkwardness. There is no aspect of authentic human experience, however mundane, that is not blessed and honored by the divine enfleshment. At the heart of it all is not silence or indifference, but an exultant and relentless Yes. God has created us to hear that yes and in the Incarnation declared us unequivocally worthy of his attention and fellowship.

To be sure, from our earliest days, humans have responded by ignoring or rejecting God's Yes and preferring in our ignorance and willfulness to speak our own “yes” to ourselves, for ourselves. But, we are unable to speak yes on our own and our self-referential “yes” invariable fragments into myriad “no's” resulting in the incoherence of sin. To the obstinate “no” of human violence, selfishness, pride, and greed – of all that refuses God’s Yes – we hear a terrifying and resolute “No!” Our “no” and God’s “No!” finally meet in Jesus on the cross. The human “no” is answered by God’s No! and, in the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning, God’s fundamental Yes to humanity (indeed, to all creation) is reasserted.

In the end, we will only be able to hear God’s Yes if we are first willing to hear the No! to all that contradicts that Yes. That is the way of repentance of which we have already heard in Advent. Faith is our yes in response to God’s Yes proclaimed in Jesus Christ. As the 20th century Swedish theologian, Gustaf Aulen, wrote, “In spite of timidity, faith is the soul’s audacious yes to God” (The Faith of the Christian Church).

Jesus said there are but two great commandments (Matthew 22:34-40), which we might paraphrase as:
1. You shall say, “Yes” to the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
2. You shall speak “Yes” to your neighbor as you yourself have heard “Yes” spoken to you.

May we prepare to hear again God’s Yes spoken in Jesus, God with us, come to save his people from their sins. "For in him every one of God's promises is a "Yes." For this reason it is through him that we say the "Amen," to the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Friday, December 16, 2016

Mercy – Greater love has no one than this

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
– Jesus (John 15:13)

Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
– Paul (Romans 5:8)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

– Paul (Romans 12:19-21)

The following story is famous among Mennonites. It comes from the scandalous era when Christians were killing Christians. Even so, it demonstrates what it looks like to take Jesus seriously on the way to mercy.

Dirk Willems was captured and imprisoned in his home town of Asperen in the Netherlands. Knowing that his fate would be death if he remained in prison, Dirk made a rope of strips of cloth and slid down it over the prison wall. A guard chased him.

Frost had covered a nearby pond with a thin layer of ice. Dirk risked a dash across it. He made it to safety, but the ice broke under his pursuer who cried for help. Dirk believed the Scripture that a man should help his enemies. He immediately turned back and pulled the floundering man from the frigid water.

In gratitude for his life, the man would have let Dirk escape, but a Burgomaster (chief magistrate) standing on the shore sternly ordered him to arrest Dirk and bring him back, reminding him of the oath he had sworn as an officer of the peace.

Back to prison went Dirk. He was condemned to death for being re-baptized, allowing secret church services in his home and letting others be baptized there.

Dirk was burned to death on May 16, 1569. The wind blew the flame away from him so that his death was long and miserable. Time and again Dirk cried out to God. Finally, one of the authorities could not bear to see him suffer any longer and ordered an underling to end his torment with a quick death.
(adapted from DirkWillem Burned after Rescuing Pursuer by Dan Graves)

One thing to note is that Dirk Willems did try to escape. The way of mercy dose not require that one to seek martyrdom. One need not stay in an abusive relationship, for example. 

But following Jesus does mean being prepared to forgive even those who wish us harm. It requires risking our own safety to help those in need, including those who we perceive to be a threat.

Would I go back over the ice to rescue my enemy? Would you? Are we willing to risk our own safety by practicing the radical mercy of God (Matthew 5:43-48)? Who might be in need of that mercy now?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Delight – Advent

This Advent
By Michael Coffey

You light candles and you wait,
not like waiting at the bus stop
with the rain soaking your day
and the time passing like tree growth.

You light candles and you wait,
not like standing in line at the grocery store
with your parsley dripping on your shoe
and the woman in front of you
wiring a check like a novel.

You light candles
as you sing songs of joy in minor keys,
and you wait
like a man sitting at the restaurant table
with the calla lilies in his hand
and the diamond ring inside
the death-by-chocolate dessert,
looking every direction every moment
to see his beloved appear.
You wait like this
even without anyone coming
to take your flowers,
year after year
war after war
death after death,
lighting candles one by one.